Genital herpes is caused by a virus that settles permanently into a nerve root in the body. Surprisingly, that cold sore that appears in our mouth which is caused by herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) is related to the herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) virus that can occur in the genital area. Both types of herpes are highly contagious and can be spread to the genitals by contact.
1. Most people have no symptoms of carrying the herpes virus.
At some point the virus erupts into painful red blisters on the skin that may last 3 to 14 days. The first outbreak is usually the worst and flare-ups may occur several times a year afterward but diminish as time goes by.
2. You can get oral type 1 herpes (HSV-1) in the genital area and type 2 (HSV-2) in the mouth.
Oral sex allows the virus to be transmitted to whatever skin it comes in contact with though HSV-1 outbreaks are less intense than those caused by HSV-2. Approximately 50 percent of new genital herpes outbreaks are found to be caused by HSV-1.
3. Herpes is still contagious even if there are no blisters.
Skin shedding of the virus still occurs even without blisters allowing it to spread. The skin area that would be covered by “boxer shorts” is vulnerable during sex, not just the genitals.
4. Currently there is no cure for herpes though anti-viral drugs can help control symptoms and reduce outbreaks.
There is no cure for HSV-2 but anti-virals taken daily can shorten and prevent outbreaks. Biovex, a biotechnology company, currently is in clinical trials with a herpes vaccine called ImmunoVEXHSV2. It will not cure those with HSV-2 but will help those who have not been infected.
5. The best prevention of herpes is through use of both condoms and oral drugs.
It is recommended that condoms be worn even during genital foreplay or touching. “Daily suppressive therapy can reduce (skin) shedding by 70 to 90 percent and reduce the frequency of outbreaks by 80 percent” according to Dr. Peter A. Leone, associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Public Health reported in the NYTs.
6. A blood test can tell you if you have herpes.
A blood test will identify if you have antibodies to herpes and some tests even differentiate between HSV-1 and HSV-2.
7. Outbreaks are not necessarily caused by diet or stress.
According to Dr. Leone, “studies do not show an association of outbreaks with diet or stress. More common triggers include trauma to the skin or genital mucosa.” Other sources relate trigger events to hormone or other immune changes such as menstruation, pregnancy, steroid therapy or other illnesses.
8. There is a connection between herpes simplex type 2 and HIV.
According to researcher Dr. Rupert Kaul of University of Toronto, “North Americans infected with herpes simplex virus type 2 face three times the risk of contracting HIV.”
9. If a woman is pregnant and has herpes she can still have a vaginal delivery.
Women who have had longstanding genital herpes infections may still give birth vaginally if they are not having a signs of an outbreak during their delivery. Women who get exposed to herpes in their second and third trimesters are usually directed to have a C-section to avoid exposure to the baby.
10. Having a partner with genital herpes doesn’t necessarily mean you will get it.
It is important to tell a new partner right away if you have genital herpes. Don’t wait! Transmission usually occurs in the first 2 months of a new relationship. Consistent use of anti-virals and condoms will greatly diminish the risk but coverage of skin in the “boxer short” area must also be done to prevent skin to skin contact even during times without a blister breakout. Anti-virals are also improving. One study found that the anti-viral Valtrex reduced transmission of HSV-2 in a group of monogamous heterosexual partners by almost 50 percent.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles